Pfc. Edward Clemente DeGottardi
Pfc. Edward C.
DeGottardi was born on August 14, 1909, in Santa Maria, California to
Patrick and Adelina DeGottardi. When he was four, his family moved
to Salinas, California, where he grew up.
In December 1940, Ed enlisted in the California National Guard at Salinas. A little over a month later he was inducted into federal service on February 10, 1941, at Salinas Army Air Base. With his company, now designated C Company, 194th Tank Battalion he traveled to Fort Lewis in Washington state. Three months later, he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky to attend radio school.
In September 1941, the 194th was sent to the Philippine Islands as part of the attempt to strengthen the American Military Forces in the islands. A little over two months after arriving in the Philippines, Ed lived through the Japanese bombing of Clark Airfield.
The morning of December 8, 1941, ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tanks of the Provisional Tank Group were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At 12:30 the planes landed and their pilots went to lunch.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runway did the tankers know the planes were Japanese.
For the next four months Ed and the others fought a delaying action against the Japanese. During this time, he was involved in engagements with the Japanese. Ed recalled that he and the other members of his tank crew had to abandon their tank which was captured by the Japanese.
On December 26th, the five tanks of Ed's platoon were sent to an area on the east coast of Luzon near Lucban. The Japanese had landed troops in the area. The American Command wanted to see what the strength of the enemy was in the area.
The tanks of Ed's platoon were ordered by a major to proceed, without reconnaissance, down a narrow trail. Since the area was mountainous, the tanks had a hard time maneuvering on the trail. As they went down the trail, the tanks attempted to keep their spacing so that the driver of each tank could each see the tank in front of him. At one point, the trail made a sharp turn. Ed's tank made the turn. After making the turn, the tank's driver realized that he could not see the lead tank. In an attempt to find the lead tank, the driver sped his tank up.
As it turned out, this maneuver saved the lives of the tankers. Just behind them a shell exploded. The shell had been fired by a Japanese anti-tank gun. Ed's tank driver drove faster to prevent the gun from getting off another shot. At the same time he zigzagged the tank. Ed's tank crashed into the log barricade that the Japanese had built across the road and took out the gun.
The tank continued forward until they reached a opening at a rice paddy where the tank could be turned around. Ed's tank commander realized that the only way out of the situation was the same way the tank had come in, so he sent his tank back the way it had just come.
As the tank approached the destroyed barricade, the tank crew members saw the lead tank off to the side of the road. It had taken a direct hit from the gun his tank had knocked out. The fire from the gun had knocked the hatch coverings off the front of the tank. From what the tankers could see, the Japanese had machine-gunned the crew while they were still in the tank.
Believing they were safe, the members of Ed's crew began celebrating their good luck. Suddenly, they took a direct hit from another Japanese anti-tank gun. The shell knocked off one of the tank's tracks causing to veer off the road and go over an earthen embankment. The tank came to a stop in a rice paddy. The crew members had no idea that their little reconnaissance patrol had taken them straight into the main Japanese staging area.
As Ed and the other men in the tank played dead, the Japanese tried to open up the tank hatch. When a new group of Japanese arrived later in the day, they to tried to get into the tank. The tankers sat quietly in the tank, without food or water, until seven the next morning. At that time, they tank crew determined that the Japanese had left the area, so they left their tank and attempted to make their way to the American lines.
The tank crew, with the help of Filipino guides, walked for the next six days attempting to reach their lines. At Nagcarlan, a Catholic priest gave them food and warned them that the Japanese were approaching the barrio. He also told them which trail to take to reach the coast.
The tankers made their way to the coast where they were able to get a boat to take them to Manila. There, Ed was operated on for his wound. The tank crew caught the last boat leaving Manila for Corregidor. From Corregidor, the tankers were taken by boat to Mariveles and rejoined their tank battalion.
On April 9, 1942, Ed became a Prisoner of War. He took part in the death march from Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan to San Fernando. The POWs went days without food and water.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. The POWs were so close together that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From there, the prisoners walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Ed was held at Camp O'Donnell. For 12,000 POWs in the camp, there was only one water spigot. Men literally died for a drink of water. Conditions in the camp were so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Ed remained at Cabanatuan until he was sent to Bilibid Prison.
As American forces began to retake captured territory from the Japanese, the Japanese began to evacuate the POWs from the Philippines. At Bilibid, the POWs would receive a physical and it was determined if they were healthy enough to be sent to Japan or another occupied country.
On March 23, 1944, Ed, with 307 other POWs, was boarded onto the Taikoku Maru. The ship sailed the same day for Takao, Formosa. How long the ship remained at Takao is not know. The ship sailed for Moji and then Osaka, Japan. It arrived at Osaka on April 10, 1944. From Osaka, Ed and the other POWs were taken to Hitachi POW Camp about nine kilometers from the town of Hitachi.
Ed and the other POWs were used as slave labor in the Hitachi copper mines. He remained in the camp until August 14, 1944, when 230 POWs were sent to Ashio #8-D. In this new camp, Ed once again found himself working in a copper mine.
Ed remained at Ashio until he was liberated by American forces. He was returned to the Philippines and then the United States on October 12, 1945. On June 15, 1946, he married. Ed remained in the army and was discharged on June 28, 1966. He worked as an assistant vice-president at the Bank of America until he retired on September 30, 1972.
The photo at the bottom of this page was taken by the Japanese while Ed was a POW in Japan. Ed DeGottardi passed away on January 20, 1995.